The rapidly evolving field of materials science offers compelling opportunities for current and prospective engineers. If you’re interested in making building materials more efficient, diving into the emerging nanomaterials sector, or exploring any number of other cutting-edge engineering challenges, materials science could be a good fit.
Pursuing an online master’s degree in materials science and engineering may seem daunting due to the many options available, but the process gets simpler once you’ve narrowed down your career objectives and personal needs. For example, online learning is an excellent choice for those who are already working or need flexibility in their daily routines.
Overview for an Online Master’s Degree in Materials Science and Engineering
The materials science and engineering field concerns technological advancements and the understanding of materials we use in everyday life. This kind of engineering involves physics and chemistry to create something better. Using biotechnology, nanotechnology and energy to name a few, materials science engineers want to improve our current technology to invent new ways of using what we already have. It’s a very innovative and creative field that depends on science and math.
This exciting area of engineering offers a variety of different areas of materials that you can study specifically, such as the following:
- Liquid crystals
Materials science and engineering is vast, and so many industries use this kind of engineering.
Why earn an online master’s degree in materials science and engineering?
If you’re passionate about the potential real-world application of your work, materials science and engineering may be your best option. You can see tangible evidence of how the research you do will affect everyday people around the world. Depending on your interests, this kind of engineering can impact various industries, including the medical field. There is even an aspect of material science and engineering that works with cancer research, but you can also work in various technology fields dealing with anything from batteries to 3D printers. There is so much that you can make an impact on as a materials science engineer.
Additionally, receiving these types of engineering master’s degrees has multiple benefits. For starters, you’ll have a lot more flexibility since you will not need to commute to your classes. This will save you a lot of time if you work or have other responsibilities in your daily life. Furthermore, pursuing school online can be more cost-effective, depending on the university. This is because you will not be actively using campus resources. Pursuing your degree online does not mean it’s worth less than an in-person degree. Ultimately, it involves the same amount of time, work and dedication as if you were studying on campus.
Master’s Degree in Materials Science and Engineering Curriculum and Common Courses
Most master’s programs are composed of core requirements and electives that you can choose from. Here are some typical courses that you will find in master’s programs for materials science and engineering curricula:
- Electronic Materials. These courses study a variety of organic and inorganic materials for properties such as semiconduction, magnetism and optics. The most common application is the suitability of these materials for computer chips, optical devices and sensors.
- Kinetics. Studies in kinetics examine the changes in a material’s microstructure in response to heat. They’re often taught in departments like chemistry and physics, as well as other branches of engineering.
- Material Science Concepts. Fundamental concepts of materials science include mainstream ideas from physics and chemistry, such as thermodynamic stability, phase states and quantum behavior. They also include agents of change in materials, including thermal fluctuations and defects in crystalline structure.
- Polymer Technology and Engineering. A polymer is a long-chain molecule composed of repeating units called monomers. Their study provides many applications, especially in manufacturing and medicine.
- Science of Electronic Materials. The study of materials for their suitability in electronic components focuses on properties such as superconductivity, magnetoresistivity and thermoelectric response. These materials have complex atomic and nanoscale structures that are critical for performance in these areas.
- Thermodynamics. These courses study the laws of thermodynamics and their applications to the properties of materials. In addition to a general foundation of materials science, courses in thermodynamics provide an understanding of chemical reactions, elasticity, magnetism and polarizability.
Every program will be different, so it’s important to research each university thoroughly to ensure you find the best program for you.
Accreditation for Master’s Programs in Materials Science and Engineering
The accreditation of higher learning institutions ensures stakeholders that graduates meet minimum standards of competence in their field. Employers who want candidates to have college degrees typically require both the institution and degree program to be accredited by a recognized organization, especially in technical disciplines like materials science and engineering. Government agencies also have accreditation requirements for grant, loan and scholarship programs. Materials science engineers also need an accredited degree to take examinations for many professional licenses.
Educational accreditation consists of two distinct types — institutional and programmatic accreditation. Institutional accreditation assesses attributes of the institution, such as the facilities, admission requirements, budgeting and other administration processes. Programmatic accreditation examines the qualities of each degree program, including coursework, degree requirements and faculty.
The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) is the primary accrediting body for programmatic accreditation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) degree programs for the U.S. ABET consists of multiple commissions that are responsible for specific disciplines. For example, ABET’s Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC) accredits programs in materials science and engineering. Accredited institutions typically implement continuous processes to ensure their degree programs remain compliant with changes to ABET’s requirements.
Online Master’s Degree Programs in Materials Science and Engineering
Many educational institutions offer a master’s in materials engineering. The programs on this list are all accredited by ABET and have a substantial portion of the coursework available online.
University of Florida – Masters of Science in Materials Science and Engineering
U.S. News and World Report ranks the University of Florida seventh among public schools. It also offers its Master’s of Science (MS) in Materials Science and Engineering as an online option, which has the same coursework as the in-person program. This program is offered by the university’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, which is in the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. Many of these professors have received international acclaim for their work in materials science.
This materials science and engineering program has four available concentrations, including structural materials, electronic materials, polymers and metals. The electives for these concentrations are different, but they all have the same three core courses. These include Material Structures & Mechanical Properties, Materials Thermodynamics and Properties of Functional Materials. All of these courses are available via streaming video, and students can also view them offline.
North Carolina State University at Raleigh – Master of Materials Science and Engineering
North Carolina (NC) State University is highly regarded for its engineering programs, which provide many career paths and research opportunities. It’s also well known for its online education, which currently includes over 110 accredited programs. The online Master of Science in Materials Science and Engineering (MMSE) degree offered by NC State is a non-thesis, course-only master’s degree. The coursework is the same as the on-campus classes, although the exams are administered by a local proctor. A thesis option is also available for students who attend the on-campus program.
The MMSE program at NC State focuses on the structure, modification and properties of materials, in addition to new or improved methods of processing those materials. The core courses include Modern Concepts in Materials Science, Nuclear Materials, Polymer Technology and Engineering and Materials Science of Nanoelectronics. This program is relatively specialized, so students whose undergraduate degree isn’t materials science and engineering may need additional courses before beginning their graduate program. However, up to 12 credits of this non-degree coursework can apply towards the MMSE program.
University of California-Los Angeles – Master of Science in Engineering—Materials Science
U.S. News and World Report ranked UCLA as the best public university in the U.S. for 2019. Annual enrollment at UCLA includes over 30,000 undergraduates and nearly 13,000 graduate students, making it a hub for many disciplines in engineering and materials science. This university has offered an online program for a Master of Science in Engineering degree since 2007, which U.S. News and World Report consistently ranks as one of the top two online graduate engineering programs in the country. Students can attend all their classes and complete their assignments online, and lectures are recorded for later viewing. The online time students need to leave their home is for midterms and final exams, which they must take on campus or at another approved testing location.
This degree program offers nine concentrations in materials science and engineering, all of which include a combination of core and elective courses. Regardless of the concentration, the program consists of nine courses with a total value of 36 credits. Candidates for UCLA’s MS in Engineering—Materials Science need an undergraduate degree in engineering, mathematics or physics, with a minimum GPA of 3.0. Work experience and performance in other graduate-level courses may also be a consideration for admission.
University of Central Florida – Master of Science in Materials Science and Engineering
The University of Central Florida (UCF) has been known as an engineering school since it was founded in 1963. It has the largest on-campus student body of any university in the U.S., with many campuses in addition to its main campus in Orlando. However, UCF also offers high-quality online programs, including its MS in Materials Science and Engineering program. This program uses an interdisciplinary approach that qualifies graduates to work in many industries, such as plastics and metals manufacturing, aerospace, automotive and education.
Students in this program must first complete a set of required courses to build their foundational knowledge before focusing on a particular area of interest in elective courses. The required courses total about 15 credits in this 30-credit program. Electives make up another 12 credits and an independent learning course or thesis accounts for the remaining three credits. Qualifying students must hold a bachelor’s degree in materials science and engineering or related field of study, and provide a resume and personal statement.
University of Arizona – Master of Science in Materials Science and Engineering
The MS in Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Arizona (UA) is taught by its School of Engineering, which is known for its customizable high-quality programs. This school uses an elective format that provides students with great flexibility in choosing the courses that interest them the most, including microelectronic processing, computational materials, ceramics and polymers.
Admission requirements include an undergraduate degree in a science or engineering discipline for students who want to begin their graduate studies with the required courses. However, applicants with other degrees can also enter this program by first taking some prerequisite courses. UA will accept up to six credits of graduate-level work from another institution or discipline towards its MS in Materials Science and Engineering program. Students must graduate with a 3.0 GPA to obtain their degree.
What can I do with a master’s degree in materials science and engineering?
A master’s degree in materials science and engineering opens the door for many career paths. However, it’s important to understand that the available occupations rarely have the exact phrase “materials science engineer” in the title. For example, engineers with this degree are often called manufacturing or metallurgical engineers. Other common occupations in this field include materials consultant, materials production researcher, product development scientist and process development scientist.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), materials science engineers have a positive salary and an average career outlook. As of May 2021, these engineers have a median salary of $98,300 per year, and this field is expected to grow by six percent between 2021 and 2031. This rate is about equal to the overall job growth for this period and is primarily due to an expected 1,700 workers transferring to other jobs or leaving the workforce entirely each year. The total employment of materials science engineers was about 22,100 in 2021, which is expected to increase by 1,300 during this decade to a total of 23,400.
Driving factors for this occupation include the continued demand for new materials in manufacturing processes, with an increased need for materials engineers to play a more direct role in developing these products and systems. For example, rising fuel prices have created a greater requirement for these engineers to create new metal alloys that can reduce weight without compromising structural strength. In addition, growing concern for the environment is creating greater demand for materials engineers for sustainability projects.
Materials engineers develop, produce and test materials used to create many products, including aircraft, computer chips, aircraft wings and biomedical devices. They study the properties and structures of metals, ceramics, plastics, composites, nanomaterials (extremely small substances), and other substances in order to create new materials that meet certain mechanical, electrical, and chemical requirements. They also help select materials for specific products and develop new ways to use existing materials. The median annual salary for materials engineers in the U.S. is $101,140 as of May 2021, according to the BLS. The full salary range for this occupation is from less than $60,700 to more than $162,300 per year, but most materials engineers earn annual salaries between $78,580 and $130,260.
Metallurgists, or metallurgical engineers, design, develop and operate processes to transform source materials into useful metals, generally for the purpose of manufacturing products. They often work in industrial-scale operations, where they extract metal from ore and refine it through a variety of physical and chemical processes. Metallurgists may also recycle metals from existing products. The average annual salary for metallurgists in the U.S. is $87,790 as of May 2023, according to ZipRecruiter. The full salary range for this occupation is from less than $28,500 to more than $127,500 per year, but most metallurgists earn annual salaries between $72,500 and $105,000.
Composite engineers work with materials composed of more than one substance, such as carbon fibers, glass fibers and resins. These materials are often used in industries such as construction and aerospace, where no single substance possesses all of the properties that the application requires. Composite engineers specialize in designing materials that meet a specific set of needs. The average annual salary for a composite engineer in the U.S. is $91,151 as of May 2023, according to ZipRecruiter. The full salary range for this occupation is from $71,500 to more than $110,000 per year, but most offshore engineers earn annual salaries between $82,500 and $95,000.
A ceramics engineer converts ceramic materials into useful products and structures. Common duties include planning manufacturing projects, analyzing test results and supervising other engineers. Ceramics engineers may also work with composite materials that contain ceramics. The average annual salary of a ceramics engineer in the U.S. is $80,200 as of May 2023, according to ZipRecruiter. The full salary range for this occupation is from less than $65,000 to more than $98,000 per year, but most ceramics engineers earn annual salaries between $75,000 and $84,000.
Nanotechnologists work on materials at the nanoscale, where distances are measured in nanometers. These materials have applications in many industries, including biomedicine, pharmaceuticals and manufacturing. Nanotechnologists may also work in areas of pure science, like physics and chemistry. The average annual salary for a nanotechnologist in the U.S. is $93,200 as of May 2023, according to ZipRecruiter. The full salary range for this occupation is from less than $22,000 to $132,000 per year, but most nanotechnologists earn annual salaries between $81,000 and $110,500.
How much do materials science engineers make?
Starting Salary for Materials Science Engineers
OwlGuru.com reports that the average starting salary for a marine engineer in 2021 ranged from $57,970 to $73,950 per year, equivalent to an hourly wage between $28 and $36 per hour. The bottom end of this range was the salary for the bottom 10 percent of materials science engineers, while the top end was the salary for the bottom 25 percent. These figures assume the materials science engineer has little to no professional experience in that occupation.
Average Salary for a Master’s Degree in Materials Science and Engineering
Salary.com shows that the average annual salary for a materials science engineer with a master’s degree is between $73,759 and $77,616, based on reports from employers. In comparison, this source shows that a materials science engineer with a bachelor’s degree has an average salary between $72,755 and $76,529.
What’s the most a materials science engineer makes?
The BLS reports that the highest-paid materials science engineers in the U.S. made more than $161,080 per year in May 2021, as compared to the median annual wage of $98,300 for this occupation. These figures are for all materials science engineers, but the specific industry significantly affects the pay they can expect to earn. For example, the manufacturers of computer and electronic products offer the highest average pay for this occupation at $112,330 per year. Companies that conduct research in the engineering, life and physical sciences have the next highest pay at a median annual salary of $106,430. Additional industries that offer materials science engineers high pay include transportation equipment manufacturers, at a median annual salary of $102,080.
Tips for Increasing Salary Potential
Gaining experience in the right specialty is often the best strategy for maximizing your income as a materials science engineer, but it’s important to select one with good long-term potential. For example, materials like semiconducting processing and biomedical engineering are likely to offer lucrative prospects for this occupation over the next decade and beyond. In addition, specializing in a particular type of material like ceramics, metal and plastic provides opportunities to land high-paying jobs in many different industries. Another way to increase pay is to secure a job that pays by the hour, especially in a deadline-driven industry like mining that often requires overtime.
Continuing Education after a Master’s Degree in Materials Science and Engineering
Material science engineers often need to continue their formal education beyond a master’s degree. Common options for continuing education in this occupation include advanced certifications and doctorate degrees.
Certificates in materials science engineering are typically issued by industry interest groups to indicate advanced training or knowledge in a particular area of this occupation.
For example, the American Society for Quality (ASQ) issues the Certified Materials Engineer (CME) designation to engineers who demonstrate a high level of expertise in materials engineering. This certificate may be a requirement for positions that require engineers to evaluate materials for their suitability in a given application, especially their performance under different conditions. Certification requires engineers to have at least four years of professional experience in materials science or a related area. Applicants must also pass an open-book exam on topics like metallurgy, testing methods and failure analysis.
The ASQ also administrates the Certified Professional Materials Engineer (CPEM) program, which recognizes professional engineers who demonstrate expertise in materials engineering. The exam for this certification covers topics like the design of materials systems, materials selection, testing and failure analysis, with an emphasis on ethical practices. Applicants need at least four years of experience or a bachelor’s degree in materials engineering or a related field. The exam consists of 175 multiple-choice questions and has a three-hour time limit. The cost of taking the CPEM exam is $395 for ASQ members and $495 for non-members. The ASQ also provides study materials for this exam at an additional cost.
The Certified Manufacturing Engineer (CMfgE) from the ASQ recognizes the knowledge and experience of materials engineers working in the manufacturing industry. It demonstrates that certificate holders have mastered core concepts in manufacturing such as production methods, material selection, process design, quality control and cost reduction. Applicants must have at least five years of work experience in manufacturing engineering or a related field. The exam covers topics like industrial engineering principles, production planning, and the design of control and quality management systems. The cost of the CMfgE exam is $345 for members and $395 for non-members.
Doctorate in Materials Science and Engineering
A doctorate program in materials science and engineering usually focuses on emerging topics in the design and use of materials, including biomaterials, computational materials, nanotechnology and energy. The most common use for this degree is in academic positions like teaching, where a PhD is often required. Advanced research and development (R&D) positions may also require this degree from materials engineers, whether they’re in academia, government or private industry.
Financial Aid Information
Most materials science engineers will require some type of financial aid to fund their education, especially if they pursue an advanced degree. The opportunities for assistance are typically fewer for a master’s degree, requiring greater planning to ensure you have adequate support before embarking on your graduate-level education. Financial aid can generally be classified into loans and scholarships, although the organization providing the funding may use other terms to describe it.
Loans are the easiest form of financial assistance for materials engineering students to obtain, since they don’t depend on academic performance. However, you should still consider them to be the last option, since you’ll eventually need to repay the loan. While you’ll typically be able to obtain a loan from multiple lenders, the interest rate can vary significantly based on your financial status, especially your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. Lenders may also consider a material engineer’s high prospects for employment when choosing the interest rate on your loan.
Many industry groups offer scholarships for students pursuing graduate studies within their area of interest. For example, the Minerals, Metals and Materials Society (TMS) offers the AIME Henry deWitt Smith Scholarship, which assists graduate-level mineral engineering students at qualifying universities. The International Symposium on Superalloys Scholarship is another scholarship from the TMS, which is for students studying high-temperature, high-performance materials.
Private companies frequently offer internships to materials science engineers, providing them with an opportunity to learn their discipline in a real-world setting. Interns typically work with professional engineers, who may have specialized training in mentoring students. These interns are often part of a multi-functional team with access to resources like laboratories, equipment and materials. Internships are usually held during the summer to minimize their impact on a student’s formal studies.
How much does a master’s degree in materials science and engineering cost?
Tuition can vary greatly among universities, so it’s essential to look at their individual costs. All universities have a financial services office that can estimate the probability of receiving financial aid while attending school, and you can also apply for outside scholarships to help with tuition. State schools have much lower rates for their residents, but they often provide online programs at the in-state rate, regardless of the student’s actual residency. The tuition for an accredited online program in materials science and engineering can range from $15,000 to nearly $50,000, primarily based on the school’s prestige.
Is a master’s degree in materials science and engineering worth it?
A master’s degree in materials science and engineering has the greatest value for teaching at the college level. In these cases, a master’s degree will not only be a requirement, but you’ll also need a doctorate as well. Technical positions that deal with new technologies in materials science also have a higher-than-average chance of requiring a master’s degree. Obtaining this degree is much easier to justify when you can get your employer to pay at least some of the tuition. This option will usually involve a commitment to continue working there after you get your degree.
How long does it take to earn an online master’s degree in materials science and engineering?
This depends on the program that you wind up participating in. The majority of the programs are 30 credits, which you can typically complete within a year of full-time study. Part-time students will typically need two years to complete this program, even with an aggressive schedule. Online programs tend to require less time for ambitious students, since they’re self-paced.
Is a master’s degree required to advance as a materials science engineer?
You won’t typically need a master’s degree when you first start your career in this occupation. However, you may find that the lack of a master’s degree is hampering your advancement once you’ve gained at least four years of experience. This is especially likely to occur if you’re seeking a job in executive management or advanced R&D.
Are materials science engineers in demand?
The demand for materials science engineers across all specialties is about equal to the overall job growth in the U.S. However, considerably greater demand exists for specialists in new materials, such as composites.
What industries are hiring materials engineers with a master’s degree?
Academia has the highest concentration of materials engineers with master’s degrees by far, since it’s generally a hiring requirement. Advanced R&D projects also have a great need for engineers with these degrees, whether they’re in government or private industry.
Is an online master’s degree in materials science and engineering the same as an on-campus degree?
Most colleges have the same coursework requirements and faculty for both online and on-campus degree programs in materials engineering. In addition, they usually don’t distinguish between these programs on diplomas or transcripts.